The Middle East’s pro-
tracted conflicts have caused a region-wide health crisis that goes beyond war wounds to heightened resistance to antibiotics and a collapse in vaccination drives, leading to a resurgence of diseases tamed in peacetime.
Health threats are so varied that one of the Middle East’s main teaching hospitals, the American University of Beirut Medical Centre, has introduced a conflict-medicine programme to equip students to cope in an environment afflicted by chaos.
As fighting has engulfed Syria, Iraq, Yemen and Libya since 2011, doctors and nurses have had to adjust not only to treating terrible injuries but to a faster spread of disease and growing threats to their own safety from combatants.
The International Committee of the Red Cross warned on Sunday that the drawn-out crises plaguing the Middle East “could lead to the total collapse of health systems”.
One growing problem is the disruption of vaccinations. Ali Batarfi, dean of the Hadramawt College of Medicine in Mukalla, Yemen, described a recrudescence of dengue fever that had been comparatively rare before the war there. The collapse in national health systems has accelerated resistance to antibiotics because of drug usage in excess of prescribed limits. At the same time, infections have spread as war has destroyed sanitation and clean water systems and triggered chaotic population movements.
Surgical treatment of injuries is very different when those wounds have been caused by high-velocity bullets or shrapnel – something traditionally trained surgeons must learn as war has spread in the Middle East. But without access to new or replacement equipment, and with electricity often out for long stretches, sometimes more traditional methods work better, such as clinical examinations rather than electricity-thirsty CT scans.
Increasingly, warring sides in conflicts are targeting medical facilities, seemingly aiming to reduce their enemies’ stomach for battle by aggravating the suffering of civilians.